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Posts Tagged ‘herbs’

Basil Forever!

You Can Grow That!

Basil plant abandoned at a trade show

Among the things left by a vendor packing up after a hort industry trade show was a modest basil plant that I set under lights on my ping-pong table.

I attended a horticulture industry conference in January of this year. When the conference ended, vendors packed up their valuables and left. Some vendors left things behind.

Apparently, when your company produces hundreds of thousands of seedlings for garden centers all over the country, it’s not cost-effective to pack up a few dozen after a trade show and take them back to headquarters.

So, I scored some edible plant seedlings: two rosemary plants, three sage plants, and a basil plant.

Herb seedlings in winter

It’s not convenient to acquire seedlings in January in central Pennsylvania. Last winter was particularly cold, and soil was hard frozen. Without a jackhammer, I couldn’t plant the seedlings outside. And anyway, basil dies when the temperature drops to 32F degrees; in central PA, basil is an annual.

Basil plant and friends on the ping-pong table

Ping-pong never caught on with my kids, and my wife and I haven’t played in years. To-boot, the only south-facing window in my basement illuminates the ping-pong table; it’s a natural place to winter over plants. I hang four-foot-long shop lights from the suspended ceiling to drive 850spectrum fluorescent tubes.

I had some stuff under lights on the ping-pong table—a whole bunch of elephant ears I’d peeled apart from the original corm I’d planted in the spring. It was a simple matter to slip the herbs in among them.

Every now and then I’d harvest a few leaves from the basil plant, and it did OK under lights. Finally, in June I planted the very mature seedling in my herb garden. It didn’t do well, but it grew and between it and a stand of purple basil plants, there was plenty to season salads and sauces. Then winter loomed.

When weather forecasts threatened frost, I cut several stems from the basil plant and stood them in water as you would cut flowers. Years ago I’d done this to hold some sprigs over a few weeks for cooking and was impressed at how easily they’d sprouted roots. This time, roots were my intent.

Basil (and lavender) in the herb garden

The basil wasn’t particularly eye-catching in my garden this summer, so I never once focused my camera on it. However, in several photos, the basil plant provided delightful contrast for the lavender.

Basil forever

The cuttings rooted quickly, and I moved them into flower pots after about four weeks. They’re just now fully acclimated to living in soil, and I’m seeing signs of new growth.

I’ve never grown herbs indoors specifically for cooking. When I have grown them, it’s been as starts for spring planting. This year, however, my basil cuttings are (nearly) entirely about seasoning. Under intense lights, I expect they’ll grow enough to flavor many meals.

I’ll harvest lightly so the cuttings remain strong, and I’ll plant the basil out next June. This will become a rhythm in my gardening year: Set the basil plants in the garden, harvest as-needed, root cuttings in autumn and pot them up, grow them under intense light, harvest modestly through winter, repeat.

It’s easy. You want basil for life? You can grow that.

Basil cuttings root easily in water

Basil is one of the easiest food plants to grow from cuttings. About three weeks in water was enough to produce healthy roots on a tiny sprig.

Freshly-rooted basil seedling under lights

I wonder how a well-managed five-year-old basil plant looks in the landscape. Similarly, I wonder whether a rooted cutting counts as a new plant, or just more of the original. This seedling started as a cutting from my herb garden and should provide seasoning for at least a few meals through the winter.

This link leads to You Can Grow That posts by other garden bloggers.

 
Small Kitchen Garden – You Can Grow That: Basil Forever

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Marjoram in Bloom and Pollinators

Pair of pollinators on marjoram

It’s hard for a single photograph to do justice to the pollinator population in my marjoram. This one reveals two revelers: a honeybee and a fritillary butterfly—probably a Meadow Fritillary, but what I know about fritillaries I learned in the last five minutes using Google and The Butterfly Site.

Two years ago, marjoram got its own place in my garden and last year it found a place in my heart. I wrote about it here. The stalks flowered for about two months and attracted pollinators more than any other plant. It’s back!

My marjoram busted out blossoms last week while I was out of town. Today, after morning rain, sun illuminated the herb garden. Pollinating insects flitted about the entire planting bed, but the biggest concentration was on the marjoram flowers.

Nearby, oregano, lavender, and mint plants all sported blossoms and each drew its own complement of insects. In fact, the peppermint forest’s visitors may have rivaled those of the marjoram, but most of them were flies… probably beneficial, but far too reminiscent of house flies.

Honey bee on marjoram

My marjoram blossoms are pink and delicate, and they attract an enormous number of honey bees.

Marjoram is naturally unruly; the stems grow tall and slender and the weight of the blossoms bend them toward the ground. Rooted in a three-foot circle, the plants can drape themselves over a 10 foot diameter circle of real estate. If that bothers you, you can use hoop trellises to hold them upright.

Whether you let the stems sprawl, or you force them vertical, you should grow marjoram. The leaves and blossoms are excellent seasoning for many foods, and the blossoms may very well become the center of activity for thousands of pollinators in your garden.

Meadow Fritillary butterfly-probably-on marjoram

A butterfly—probably a meadow fritillary—spreads its wings in my marjoram patch. The marjoram is by far the liveliest place in my yard while herbs are abloom.

 

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More Mint Madness!

Pot-bound mint plant with rhizome

A mint plant I bought at a grocery store to flavor a Turkish meal became pot bound in the nearly two months before I was ready to work in my garden. The thick white band running around the root ball is a rhizome that would be happy growing through a planting bed or lawn – perhaps seven feet or farther in a single season!

Seems I abuse mint in print quite a bit. My last blog post—Community Garden Ithaca—included complaints about people planting mint in the soil of community gardens. That post linked to an earlier one warning kitchen gardeners to protect their plots against mint. I just had an experience that seriously illuminates the mint menace.

In the past two months I cooked two Turkish recipes that called for mint. Holding no illusions that dried mint would taste authentic, I splurged and bought live mint at the grocery store. For each meal I bought a well-leafed plant in a 2-inch pot.

After cutting about half the foliage from a pot, I set the plant among my gardening stuff on the porch figuring to set it in my garden some time this spring. Even without added nutrition—I haven’t given them plant food—the plants have continued to put out new growth. Unfortunately, the pots dry out quickly.

As I packed up for yet another trip to Ithaca, I decided not to burden my wife with mint-watering duties. So, I potted up each plant into its own milk jug planter which I figure will hold moisture for four or five days. What I found behind the walls of the 2-inch pots should put a chill in every kitchen gardener. The photos tell the story.

Mint plant factory

You can clearly see four baby mint plants emerging from the rhizome and if you squint you might spot two others. As a mint rhizome extends through your planting beds and your lawn beneath the soil, it produces a new plant every inch or so. With no effort on your part, you can have an enormous mint patch in just one or two seasons. It is folly to plant mint in the ground on your property unless all you want to grow is mint. My grocery store plants will eventually end up in circular containment rings with deep root barriers—the same setup I’ve used for oregano, marjoram, and sunchokes. By the way: Don’t let mint plants hang over the sides of containers so their stems touch soil. Mint stems happily produce new roots when you give them a chance.

 
Small Kitchen Garden blog

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Oregano? You Can Grow That!

oregano in my small kitchen garden

After a few years of growth in the corner of my small kitchen garden, an oregano seedling had expanded into a six-foot diameter circle that I had to cut back each season in favor of planting annual vegetables.

More and more of us want to grow food, but for many, the idea is a bit intimidating. Just to get started you may need to prepare space in your yard or acquire containers for your deck or patio. Then there’s the question of what to grow? Starting with a finicky, hard-to-grow plant might lead to discouragement.

How about oregano? Sure, you’re not likely to make a meal out of this pungent herb, but you could use it to flavor all kinds of foods. And, for someone just starting out, there are few plants as certain to succeed as this one.

Oregano Hardiness

Without cover, oregano will survive winter down to hardiness zone 5. While you can start it from seeds, you’ll almost guarantee success if you buy oregano seedlings from a nursery or garden center.

biblical rain soaks my rhubarb

Biblical rains in 2011 drowned many of my annual vegetables along with the rhubarb and the oregano. It was saddening to see the entire herb patch wither into soggy twigs.

You might discover that oregano grows quickly and spreads aggressively. To give you some idea, take a look at the first photo in this post. It features a large green blob that covers a six-foot diameter space in the corner of my kitchen garden. That blob started as an oregano seedling I bought through a school fundraising event. Four or five years passed from when I planted the seedling to when I created the photo, and I cut the oregano back several times in that time span.

Oregano Tenaciousness

Last year it rained in central Pennsylvania. I’m talking about rain of near biblical proportions. There was standing water in my garden for weeks, and it was a struggle to get annuals such as tomatoes, squash, corn, and beans to produce. All my rhubarb plants drown, and by winter all that remained of that big blob of oregano was a tangle of brown, soggy twigs.

oregano survivor

From the rotting twigs of my dead oregano monster, this lone branch sprouted leaves in the spring of 2012. I transplanted it into the new herb bed I’d created at the end of 2011.

Still, this spring, leaves emerged from one of the dead-looking oregano branches. Wanting to add soil so flooding would be less likely in future wet seasons, I dug up that leafy sprig of oregano, held it for a few months in a nursery pot, and then planted it in a newly-prepared herb garden. To help the oregano behave, I set it inside of a root barrier (I’ve come to respect its enthusiasm to conquer).

As the photos show, in just three months the herb has nearly filled its confinement ring. I’ve harvested repeated through those months to flavor tomato sauces and meat marinades.

Do I think oregano is a great choice for someone starting their first kitchen garden? Yeah. You can grow that!

from seedling to ground cover in three months

After three months, my oregano survivor spread throughout the root-containment ring in which I planted it.

rooted oregano sprig

Here’s why oregano is so capable of subjugating whole patches of a garden. The sprig in the photo was headed toward a sauce pan when I noticed roots emerging from the main stem. The sprig had not been in contact with soil but obviously it wanted to be. You can grow that!

Find more posts celebrating what you can grow at You Can Grow That!

 

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Decorate Your Kitchen Garden with Basil in Containers


In 2011, I planted three 6-inch flower pots with two colors of basil. These remained on my deck rail for the season, providing flavoring for the too-few tomato salads I prepared until blight wiped out my tomato patch.

Basil is an essential herb in my small kitchen garden. Historically, I’ve started basil seeds when I set tomato seedlings in my planting bed. My motivation: the basil plants mature at just the right speed to be ready when the first tomatoes ripen.

If you followed Your Small Kitchen Garden blog in 2011, you might recall that in nearly every post I whined about water. The rain last year was devastating, and even until mid winter local basements were flooding because the water table had not receded. Despite my whining, the season had some high points one of which was my experience with basil in flower pots.

Decorative Basil on the Deck

Basil sprouts are among the most attractive sprouts in my small kitchen garden each year. I especially loved watching the purple basil get started.

I made the mistake last year of not buying basil seeds until I was planting tomatoes. By then, I couldn’t find Genovese or its ilk in local stores. I did find lemon basil seeds as well as a variety of purple basil.

With all the rain, I figured to control moisture most effectively by planting in flower pots. Then, inspired by ornamental plantings of my friends, I decided to mix the lemon basil and purple basil seeds and create planters that would be decorative as well as productive.

Lessons Learned from Decorative Basil Pots

I placed each seed in the pots deliberately to create patterns. In one pot, I laid a circle of purple around a green center. In two others, it was a green circle around a purple center (there were frustratingly few purple basil seeds).

By far my favorite arrangement was the green center with a purple border, but I have reservations:

Lemon basil is a very tall plant. Well-nourished, it can grow to about 36 inches. The purple basil plants were modest growers. A tall one might have reached 12 to 18 inches. The colors looked great together, but the lemon basil plants overwhelmed the flower pots and cutting them back severely only resulted in further aggressive growth.

I’ll be shopping for basil seeds soon for 2012, and I’ll look for purple and green varieties whose growth habits are very similar to each other. I’ll probably plant a few more pots than I did last year; they look terrific on the deck, and it’s nearly impossible to grow too much basil.

The purple border around a green center is a striking display in many ornamental beds. It also looks great with edibles. I’ll give a little more thought in coming years to the colors and textures of my food plants when I plan what’s going to grow on my deck.

 

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Small Kitchen Garden Bloom Day, July 2011

This onion barely qualifies as “in bloom” on this Garden Bloggers Bloom Day. A few petals remain, and I assume the white bud-looking things are future onion seeds. If these grow anything like wild onions, I expect to see sprouts emerge all over this ball within a month or so… assuming I can continue to work around it—at this point, it’s kind of in the way in my small kitchen garden.

It’s Garden Bloggers Bloom Day and my Small Kitchen Garden actually has something to offer! My vegetables are a few weeks behind compared to past years, but things are finally shaping up. (Understand that I had virtually no spring crops this season because my planting bed was underwater until the end of MAY.) Tomatoes have formed (seedlings went into the garden in early June) and I’m projecting the first will ripen in mid August… which is just a bit later than usual.

Peppers are the hold outs this year. While my bell pepper plants are lush and growing, my jalapeno, banana pepper, and poblano plants have stood for weeks with no apparent growth. Now that the soil is seasonably dry, I hope these struggling plants finally get it in gear.

For long-time readers of Your Small Kitchen Garden, the cilantro and dill pairing should seem familiar; it has starred in many a Bloom Day post. The dill (right) is poised to blossom, while the cilantro (left) is about to produce coriander—seeds from the cilantro plant are, in and of themselves, a popular seasoning.

My herb bed helped me through the wet spring; it was never as wet at the main planting bed so I was able to start annuals alongside the perennials I’d set in in the fall. The purple flowers—clearly in bloom—are on a volunteer that I recognized when it first sprouted; it had snuck in from my wife’s ornamental plantings. The modest blossoms stand out against the lush greens of sage, cilantro, dill, and basil.

Mint blossoms! I don’t know what type of mint it is… it started growing two years ago in a planter containing tarragon plants. I’m OK with it as long as it stays in the container. But if it escapes, I will almost certainly eradicate it; mint is aggressive about colonizing planting beds.

The broccoli was a joke this year. Because of rain, I left seedlings in their starting pots about a month too long. When I finally set them in the garden, the soil was too wet—and then it rained. When the plants finally sent up florets, each would have filled about a tablespoon. The side shoots have been even less impressive. I’ve pulled all but three of the plants, and a rabbit recently pruned two of them. Climbing beans are now emerging from the decimated broccoli area. Pretty yellow flowers will not save the last broccoli plants from a move to the compost heap.

Happiness is a tomato blossom presaging the coming harvest. (I said “presaging” because it has “sage” in it.) I’m growing 10 varieties of tomatoes this year if you don’t count the Cherokee Purples that have sprung up in the compost heap.

There seems always to be at least one interloper at my Bloom Day photo shoots. Here, a fly-looking thingy tries to steal the spotlight from a bell pepper flower. I so hope my peppers have enough growing season remaining to turn red; I’d like to make a batch of red pepper relish using only peppers from my garden.

Yep: weed. At least that’s what my wife says. I think it looks like a morning glory, but my wife assures me it’s not. Still… it really wants to be a morning glory. I suppose I should believe my wife given that these things grow as abundantly as purslane wherever we work the soil.

That’s a cosmos about to burst into song in my vegetable garden. It irks me just a little to have been planting flowers, but I planted corn this year (which I haven’t done since I was a kid). I mentioned one week during #gardenchat (a weekly gathering on Twitter of anyone wishing to discuss gardening) that I was going to plant corn, and someone assured me that if I plant cosmos with it corn ear worms will not visit my crop. I hope this wasn’t just a mean trick to get me to plant flowers… We shall see.

 

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